12 April 2021: Momentous would be an understatement for the events on Sunday at Augusta National. Hideki Matsuyama, who began playing golf some twenty five years ago, sent Japan and Asia into raptures with a stoic effort to extract a one-stroke victory in the 85th Masters Tournament. There were signs of nervousness early on when he found the pine straw on the first hole, but he composed himself after an opening bogey for a steady infusion of birdies to stay well clear of his competitors. But the back nine at the Masters is a beast, and it threatened to bite into Matsuyama’s tender skin. In the end he held his nerve just enough for a 73 to win by one from Will Zalatoris, who was mighty impressive in his first ever visit to the Masters.
Matsuyama got off to a nervy bogey on the first hole, but seemed to gather his wits very quickly. He regained his advantage with a birdie on the second to get back on even terms with the course, staying well clear of the field. As he reached the twelfth tee, Matsuyama was five shots ahead with Will Zalatoris at 8-under. But four bogeys over the final seven holes weren’t enough to dampen a decidedly ecstatic week for Matsuyama who took a stranglehold of the Masters with a scorching 65 on Saturday. He only needed a 73 on Sunday, two-putting from six feet on the 18th to secure the greatest victory of his career.
Jon Rahm, a freshly minted father, threatened to steal the march on the leaders with an imposing six-under 66. But he was working from eleven shots back and it was too much distance to cover on a Sunday when the leader was standing as tall and firm as the Georgia Pines that line this August course. It was enough for a tie in fifth with Marc Leishman.
Jordan Spieth showed his customary brilliance around Augusta National. Despite struggling for consistency at times, Spieth still produced the goods with a string of birdies – he made five from the 9th through 17th. He rolled off the front edge on the 18th and missed the par-putt from short range to settle for a 70 and fourth at 7-under. In eight starts in the Masters, Spieth has a win, two T2s, a third place finish and one in eleventh besides the result this week.
Xander Schauffele’s mother Ping Yi of Taiwanese heritage had lived in Japan. Schauffele kept Matsuyama regaled with some Japanese jokes on Saturday. But there was no time for pleasantries as the two men played together again in the final round. Especially after the American conceded four strokes in three holes from the third. That dropped him to four-under, seven adrift of his partner on the day. But he showed great composure to work his way back, a burst of four straight birdies from the 12th moving him to ten-under.
Matsuyama opened a door for a persistent Schauffele when he flew in hot with his ambitious approach shot on the par-5 15th hole. The latter played an excellent wedge from the bunker on the right grazing the edge of the hole, before settling for birdie. The Japanese copped his loss, taking a bogey and the lead was down to two.
But the par-3 16th proved to be Schauffele waterloo. He got wet off the tee and scrambled a triple bogey, his first such score in a major. Even though Matsuyama also conceded a bogey on the hole, his third in five holes, the Japanese retained a two-stroke lead over Will Zalatoris. Schauffele dropped into third with Spieth, who was already in the clubhouse at 7-under.
At 24, Will Zalatoris is working his way through golf’s pecking order. He turned professional midway through his senior year at Wake Forest, four years ago. He is working off a special temporary membership on the PGA TOUR, after claiming his first victory on the Korn Ferry Tour in July last year. But in his first appearance at the Masters, Zalatoris looked anything but rookie with his performance. Playing with inexplicable awareness, Zalatoris shot 70 in the final round to stay under par on each of the four days to finish runner-up at nine-under.
Spieth, Schauffele -7
Rahm, Leishman -6